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The Drive: How Quandre Diggs may have fixed the Seahawks secondary

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Barton cost Quandre Diggs perfection. Before Jared Goff completed a pass to Cooper Kupp for 21 yards, Seattle had not allowed a single reception to the deep middle in any of the games Diggs had started. Barton screwed up his underneath coverage and that allowed the completion.

The symmetrical nature of the Los Angeles Rams’ routes makes for easy analysis.

Well, pretty easy. I am still left with an unanswered question that I cannot easily answer. If the Seattle Seahawks are running a Tampa 2 and not simply a Cover 2, Bobby Wagner (circled) needed to achieve better depth. Had he Wagner could’ve provided essential underneath coverage. But, assuming Wagner has not blown his assignment, it’s likely Barton is to blame.

The view from behind center makes this pretty clear.

K.J. Wright is “underneath” Robert Woods. Wagner has closed on Todd Gurley, perhaps overcompensating for Gurley’s reputation as a receiver. It’s hard to criticize Wagner for covering an otherwise uncovered receiver when Barton is in no man’s land, neither covering a receiver nor providing underneath coverage. All the same, in this symmetrical safety look, Diggs was not responsible for a completion to the deep middle.

Since Diggs began starting for Seattle, the Seahawks have only allowed one completion to the deep middle in five attempts, allowing 4.2 yards and -0.072 expected points added per attempt. In Tedric Thompson’s five starts, Seattle allowed four completions in eight attempts, plus another incomplete which was wiped out by a Thompson personal foul, for an average of 16.1 yards an attempt and 1.02 expected points added per attempt. No passes targeting the deep middle were attempted in Delano Hill’s two starts.

The Seahawks have increasingly featured a symmetrical safety look since trading for Diggs. Apart from taking away the deep middle, this has freed Tre Flowers to play underneath more frequently. While I do not have stats from this last week’s contest, we can still compare Flowers’ performance in Diggs’ three other starts to his performance in the other nine games.

Tre before Diggs

61 targets, 37 completions, 60.7% completion percentage, 6.1 adjusted yards per target, 10.0 adjusted yards per catch

After Diggs

24 targets, 13 completions, 54.2% completion percentage, 2.6 adjusted yards per target, 4.8 adjusted yards per catch

Much of that dramatic change is a result of Flowers’ two interceptions. In 1,431 snaps over two seasons, Flowers had one interception, and nine passes defended. Avoiding stating the obvious, that’s one pass defense for every 159 snaps. Flowers averaged about one pass defended for every two to three games, and one interception for every 23. In his new modified role, Flowers is intercepting passes at a higher rate than he had previously defended passes, averaging one interception for every 140.5 snaps, and a pass defended for every 70.3 snaps.

We’re talking about tiny samples of a very mixed nature, and so I do not want to overstate the strength of this evidence. It does conform to my subjective evaluation. While Flowers interception of Kirk Cousins was mostly the product of hustle and luck, his interception of Carson Wentz was perfect underneath coverage enabled by steady support over top.

Check it out.

Seahawks align with two deep safeties. Flowers and receiver Jordan Matthews are circled.

Wentz is right away looking Flowers’ way. This is not, as you can probably guess, because Wentz has exceeding confidence in Matthews. He was cut two days after the game.

Flowers is able to jam Matthews and squeeze him up against the sideline. He then achieves a very strong position underneath.

You may also notice that Wagner is quite deep, suggesting this is a Tampa 2. Credit analyst Charles Davis, who called it on the fly.

Above, the ball is in flight, and Diggs, the deep safety on Flowers’ side, looks very far away. In fact, he’s exactly where he needs to be.

Flowers runs the route for Matthews and nabs an interception for his effort. It’s the best snap of football I’ve ever seen Flowers play.

Seattle’s pass rush is ruinously bad. The Seahawks rate only above the Dolphins in Football Outsider’s adjusted sack rate. They still rank worst in the NFL for percentage of opponent pass attempts which result in a quarterback hit. And, since I’m in a bad mood and would like to grind an axe, their rush defense has been particularly weak at defending runs designated as left tackle or left end, rating 30th and 29th respectively in adjusted line yards. Seattle is desperate for a pass rusher; desperate for a right defensive end. Probably.

Conversely, maybe the massive improvement of Seattle’s secondary—even after last week, the Seahawks pass defense is its third strongest unit after pass offense (1st!) and run offense—will result in pressures becoming hits or even sacks. That’s the theory. It hasn’t happened but it could happen. If not this season, then surely next. Because for the first time in a long time, the secondary is young, inexpensive, playing well, and all under contract for the foreseeable future.